We awoke in the dark and set out across the water under a crescent moon and a blanket of stars. Crossing the dock, we entered a small village that was just beginning to stir and start the day. After one more crossing over a bridge that spanned a small tidal channel, we moved uphill through the forest as pale light began to seep up along the horizon. The forest rapidly came to life with the ethereal, bubbling calls of hooded butcherbirds, the emphatic whoops of helmeted friarbirds, and the raucous rattles of common paradise kingfishers. Just at dawn, we reached a hilltop with amphitheater seating pointed skyward. We had arrived at the display grounds for red birds-of-paradise. Our primary target soon made a noisy entrance: a crimson flash heading for the treetops. Over the next half hour, three of these gaudy males paraded through the high branches as they chased each other, preened, called, and shook impossibly long, wire-like plumes…all, unfortunately, in vain. Despite having a large audience, their desired audience (female red birds-of-paradise) never appeared, and they departed to feed. We headed down to the village. We stopped to admire spice imperial pigeons, Gurney’s eagles, and radjah shelducks along the way. Back in town, we were greeted by children on their way to school and people starting the workday. All had time for a quick “hallo!” and a few photos. Back on board, we joined the rest of our company who had opted for a more reasonable start time.
In the afternoon, we traded the spectacular birdlife on land for the kaleidoscopic world under the water. We took shifts drifting at the edge of some of the world’s most diverse and spectacular corals. The array of forms and colors of life in this part of the world cannot be accurately described, and if it weren’t for the snorkels in our mouths, the sea would have been alive with gasps of awe and wonder. A late morning presentation on reef fish identification by Mike Greenfelder gave us the tools we needed to start describing what we were seeing. Above the waves, you could hear snippets of, “…a large angelfish with a golden saddle and blue spots…,” “…a tiny wrasse – red with white saddles…,” and, “…I don’t know what it was, but it’s my new favorite!” A lucky few even spotted a pair of dugongs!
Back on board, we wrapped up the day with the famous Orion Crew Show! It was a wonderful evening filled with a wide array of dances, musical numbers, and comedy acts from our talented crew – bartender by day…bartender and lead singer of the house band by night! Despite the pre-dawn wakeup, everyone stayed up and showed out for drinks, dancing, and laughs all the way until the end.